by Ivan Seselj

7 ways to balance RPA risk and opportunity

Mar 19, 2018
IT LeadershipRisk ManagementRobotics

These seven steps, plus a slightly more formal approach, will ensure that you achieve your RPA objectives and will go a long way to reducing any risk the change might introduce to your processes.

robot monitoringa  cog wheel system for maintenance [automation]
Credit: Getty Images

Forward-thinking companies of all sizes are adopting robotic process automation (RPA) to help speed up routine processes while keeping costs low and freeing up human workers to focus on innovation and customer services.

RPA is revolutionizing every industry, from banking to manufacturing, and has become a core part of the line-up of technologies driving digital transformation of products and services, taking its place alongside ground-breaking technologies like AI, the Internet of Things and big data analytics.

In banking, process automation can simplify transaction processing, allowing banks to cut costs while providing better and faster customer service. In finance, RPA streamlines trade reconciliations and NAV calculations. As an integral part of Industry 4.0, the latest wave of the industrial evolution, manufacturers rely on RPA for diverse applications such as process quality monitoring for quality and inventory rotation. Healthcare uses it to streamline billing.

RPA confusion

Many companies are confused about the ways that RPA will change their organizations. They are concerned about introducing potential risks into currently stable processes. Here are seven simple steps to help ensure that your organization achieves the benefits of RPA without introducing new risks.

1. Take your time

Process automation is exciting, causing some companies to rush headlong into making changes to as many processes as they can, as quickly as they can. Introducing new technology this way can disrupt the smooth flow of products and data, causing business and supply chain interruptions and unsettling the workforce.

It’s far better to take the time to thoughtfully analyze which processes would benefit the most from automation, and to ensure that these processes are running smoothly and are well understood. Taking the time for analysis also helps prepare the organization for what may be sweeping changes.

2. Go for early successes

It’s tempting to use the RPA movement to tackle the toughest, most error-prone processes. Your organization will get to these difficult areas, but it’s better to start small and go for an early success. This allows the team to become comfortable with the new technologies and methodologies without risking shipments or customer service. As the organization gains confidence, you can tackle thornier processes.

3. Simple is better

One of the first steps you will take as you introduce RPA is to chart the existing process, so you understand the existing steps and information flow. During this period, some employees may try to force the system to accommodate every possible exception. They may do this in an effort to be helpful or to prove that a robot can’t handle it, but regardless of the motivation, this is not helpful input.

Start with a simple process, and plan the automation to handle the typical, routine flow. Build in steps to kick out exceptions for human intervention. As your team becomes more comfortable with automation, you can build in more complex rules; but in the beginning, keep it simple.

4. Don’t skimp on education

RPA is a major change to your organization’s business processes and infrastructure. Take the time to ensure that everybody is aware of the coming changes and how it will affect their roles. Obviously, the IT team needs to learn the technology, but so do department managers and workers. Be sure to budget time and money for ample education, and don’t be tempted to rush or omit this vital part of your digital transformation journey.

5. Communicate early and often

Training is necessary and good, but most people first want to know “What does this mean for me?” Talk about the upcoming changes and help people to understand their future roles. Many workers find that their jobs are more interesting and fulfilling when robotics handles the routine tasks. Others may find that they need to upgrade their skills or move on. Be respectful of your team by helping them to understand their part in the changes, and let them know about successes and failures as the project rolls out.

6. Treat RPA like any critical project

Enthusiasm is wonderful, but it must be channeled. Don’t jump in to RPA without taking the time to define your objectives, identifying critical milestones and documenting achievements.

Consider the move to RPA as a critical business project. Just as building a new facility or introducing a new product would be treated as a formal project, so too should RPA. Take the time to assign a project leader and a project team to develop and execute the project plan.

7. Manage your bots – sustain the change

Automated processes aren’t necessarily risk-free processes. An organization may use 35 bots across 60 processes to work faster and smarter, but what happens when the status quo is threatened by a system change, for example?

Business teams should know as much as their bots do, and more. Invest in a proven process platform to capture and store your automated processes so they can be easily updated and accessible by teams, anywhere, anytime. Teams can recover quickly if automation fails temporarily, when they can see what the big picture of their automated processes looks like. Encourage people to get involved in creating the best possible processes for your bots to execute. This can engender a sense of ownership that builds long-lasting change capability within your teams.

These seven steps, plus a slightly more formal approach, will ensure that you achieve your RPA objectives and will go a long way to reducing any risk the change might introduce to your processes.